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The Levelland Animal Shelter has announced it will be quarantining animals at the shelter and closing temporarily as it addresses concerns regarding canine distemper.
Capt. Tammie McDonald with the Levelland Police Department, who also serves as supervisor over the animal shelter and services, said the closing was the result of an animal at the shelter testing positive for distemper.
McDonald said distemper is a highly contagious disease that can be spread between dogs and other animals, including ferrets, skunks, and racoons.
The disease is incurable and often (50 percent of the time) fatal, multisystemic (affecting multiple organs) disease that affects the respiratory, gastrointestinal, and central nervous system.
After meeting with the Animal Shelter Advisory Board Thursday evening, McDonald said the city has decided to move forward with quarantining the animals for at least two weeks.
She said the shelter will only take in aggressive dogs and bite dogs over the next two weeks, on a case by case basis, but will not be accepting surrendered animals at this time.
McDonald said the shelter has already tested all 17 dogs currently at the shelter and submitted those samples. She said the results should be back by Tuesday.
All animals that test negative must continue to be quarantined and re-tested in 14 days, according to a press release by the city sent out Friday. The press release said after a second negative test, the animal is considered “clear of distemper, according to veterinary professionals consulted.”
The release said that positive tests will be addressed on a case by case basis in a manner that will minimize the risk of animals at the Levelland Animal Shelter and the animal population in Levelland while working within the resources available.
In addition to administering tests to the animals and sanitizing the shelter, McDonald said the shelter manager and workers are required to wear the appropriate personal protective equipment when dealing with affected animals.
“She has to gown up, glove up and mask up every time she goes in now,” McDonald said. “It’s not contagious to humans, but if she has animals at home, she doesn’t want to take it home on her clothing.”
McDonald said the tests are being paid for by the Levelland Animal Friends.
McDonald said the disease, which is highly contagious, is also 100 percent preventable through a round of vaccine shots for puppies.
McDonald said even when dogs do survive a bout of distemper, their quality of life is deteriorated due to the disease effecting the central nervous system of the animal.
She also said that even a healthy dog that is a carrier of the disease can shed and spread the disease for up to four months after coming into contact with it.
On June 3, McDonald said animal control officers picked up a dog that began acting strange and showing abnormal symptoms.
The dog was tested for distemper on Friday, June 12. The test returned a positive result Wednesday, at which point the shelter was closed temporarily.
“It’s a virus that is highly contagious and is airborne,” McDonald said. “It spreads most commonly over a short time and a short distance.”
She said once the department learned of the positive test, the first course of action was to immediately stop the incoming and outgoing of animals.
“We don’t want to release any dogs to an adoptive family and risk it spreading,” McDonald said. “We don’t want this to spread throughout the town since it’s a highly contagious disease.”
McDonald and staff at the animal shelter sought consultation with local veterinarians, along with state health officials on how to move forward.
Most importantly, McDonald urges pet owners to be sure and vaccinate their animals against the disease to ensure their animal doesn’t contract or spread the highly contagious disease.
“It’s very preventable,” McDonald said. “If dogs get their shots as a puppy, it could be prevented by vaccinations.”
McDonald said the animal shelter policy indicates that the shelter does not provide any veterinary care for the animals that come into the shelter. She said all veterinary care is provided by the Levelland Animal Friends, including vaccinations for animals.
Thus, McDonald said the shelter is not aware of what animals have been vaccinated for the disease prior to the animal coming into the shelter.
“Levelland Animal Friends assists us in taking the animals to the veterinarian,” McDonald said. “We appreciate Levelland Animal Friends for doing that.”